Part of the Falcons’ resurgence on defense can be attributed to using linebacker De’Vondre Campbell like a chess piece.
In Sunday’s win over the 49ers, coach Dan Quinn said Campbell lined up at strong safety, linebacker and defensive end and had a team-high 11 tackles. Campbell also recovered a fumble and forced another one - and also covered 49ers tight end George Kittle 30 yards downfield on another play.
“He was just ready to answer every challenge thrown his away,” Quinn said of Campbell. “Another good thing for him is the production that he’s had over the last few ball games. There have been sacks, there have been interceptions, forced fumbles. He’s been one of the better ball-hawking players for us.”
Campbell was understated after the big game against the 49ers.
“We just played great team defense, that’s it,” he said.
Campbell, a fourth-round pick in 2016, is in the final year of his four-year, $4.2 million rookie contract. Normally, the Falcons like to extend their own players when possible but with owner Arthur Blank “evaluating” the state of the team, some things are likely on hold.
Campbell played immediately as a rookie and started 10 of 11 regular season games and all three playoff games, including Super Bowl LI. In 2017, he started all 18 games.
Last season, with the defense hit by injuries, Campbell stepped forward and became more vocal as he finished with 94 tackles. If the Falcons don’t have a deal for Campbell, he will likely be snapped up quickly on the free agency market.
“You are right about him, his play making ability, his production has been really something that we’ve been impressed with,” Quinn said.
Campbell played at Minnesota in the Big Ten and some were not sure where he could play in the NFL. It turns out that he can play -- all over the field.
“One of the things when you watched him on tape, certainly from the college side, that put the work in and look at the guys, to find the traits from their college tape to move up,” Quinn said. “That’s the hardest part about evaluating college players and comparing them to what they would do in the NFL.”
The Falcons got him ready to play quickly.
“What you saw right away from De’Vondre was a 6-foot-4 guy with 34 inch arms, who has length and speed to close,” Quinn said. “We thought if we had a guy like him who could matchup on tight ends, that would be something on the man-to-man side that you could do.”
In addition to the tackles, Campbell has five tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, two sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and two interceptions.
“He’s proven to be even more versatile with his ability to play outside linebacker, inside linebacker and on the line,” Quinn said. “He’s just somebody that kept putting the work in to keep developing. The thing that stands apart to me is that he’s built like a tight end. So, the challenges to go and guard the big guys, that’s a tough assignment and he’s always down for that.”
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